14 Types of Pasta + Our Favorite Italian-Inspired Recipes for Every Diet

Last Update: December 14, 2023

You can’t have a conversation about Italian cuisine without mentioning pasta. According to the Italian Association of Confectionary and Pasta Industries, (Aidepi for short), the country produces more than 3 million tonnes of pasta annually, with the average Italian eating roughly 51 pounds of pasta per year. It’s estimated that there are roughly 350 shapes and 1,300 dialect names—a complex history explored in Rachel Roddy’s cookbook, An A-Z of Pasta: Stories, Shapes, Sauces, Recipes, where she describes pasta shapes as “edible hubs of information: flour and liquid microchips containing huge amounts of data, historical, geographical, political, cultural, personal, practical.” Wheat might be the most traditional ingredient, but today’s modern options—made with everything from lentils to cauliflower—mean pasta is always on the menu.

The 5 Most Popular Types of Pasta Shapes (and How to Use Them)

Italy Magazine explains that pasta shapes are in service to the sauce that best pairs with them. Shape and texture are paramount for this marriage of ingredients, and many regions have developed their own shapes over the years. “For example, bigoli (thick, noodle-like spaghetti) are from Veneto; strozzapreti (meaning, ‘priest strangler’) are from Emilia-Romagna; trofie (perfect with pesto) are from Liguria, and orecchiette (or, ‘little ears’) are from Puglia.”

We don’t have access to as many unique shapes in the U.S. (unless you make it yourself), but you can still master the art of pairing the right pasta shape with the correct sauce. And if you ask an Italian chef, it’s paramount. “When you have a pasta that doesn’t necessarily pair well with a specific sauce, parts of the sauce might slide off, and you’ll end up eating a noodle without the maximum amount of flavor,” says Tal Ronnen, founder and chef of Crossroads and author of New York Times bestseller, The Conscious Cook.

1. Penne

types of pasta

Penne is a quill-shaped pasta that was developed in 1865 when a new device patented by Giovanni Battista Capurro arrived in the small town of San Martino d’Albaro, near Genoa. The machine allowed tubes of pasta to be cut diagonally, eliminating the need for scissors. There are several types of penne, but the most popular is penne rigate, a shape with ridges running along the surface that’s ideal for chunky sauces or baked recipes.

2. Spaghetti

types of pasta

Translating as ‘thin strings’, spaghetti is one of Italy’s most iconic pasta shapes. Since this shape doesn’t cling to chunky sauce as well as others, it’s best suited to lighter preparations like carbonara (an egg-based sauce), puttanesca (a tomato-based sauce), or seafood sauces.

3. Fusilli

types of pasta

Fusilli is a short, twisted shape popular in Southern Italian cuisine. Its name is associated with a tool used to twist wool (the “fuso”), and fusilli is perfect with meat-, ricotta-, or pesto-based sauces that can cling to the coil.

4. Rigatoni

types of pasta

Rigatoni is all about the ridges. This shape has a wide, cylindrical surface and forms short tubes that can handle thicker sauces. Similar to penne rigate, rigatoni pair well with chunks of vegetables and meat, as well as pestos.

5. Tagliatelle

types of pasta

Tagliatelle’s origin story is a bit of a mystery, but legend goes that the pasta was first made at a banquet held by Giovanni II of Bentivoglio in the 15th century. The head chef took sheets of pasta (normally used for lasagna) and cut them into ribbons, supposedly to pay homage to the flowing blonde hair of one of the guests in attendance. Regardless of whether or not the story is true, Italians love tagliatelle, a shape that lends itself to pairing with hearty beef and pork ragù.

Pantry Upgrade: Diet-Friendly Pasta

Get ready to explore the wide world of gluten-free pasta. With ingredients like garbanzo beans, brown rice, and lentils rather than wheat, it’s not only easier than ever to enjoy your favorite recipes with fewer carbs than traditional versions, but you’ll enjoy an added nutritional boost as well. Here are some of the brands that Thrive Market members swear by.

Thrive Market Organic Chickpea Pasta, Fusilli

  • Key Ingredients: chickpeas
  • Nutrition Highlights: 14g of protein and 2g of dietary fiber per serving
  • What Our Members Say: “Fits great with our high-protein, GF diet. Love the texture and taste.” —Tim, Idaho

Jovial Organic Brown Rice Fettuccine

  • Key Ingredient: brown rice flour
  • Nutrition Highlights: 5g of protein and 2g of dietary fiber per serving
  • What Our Members Say: “Are you sure this pasta isn’t made with flour? No one in my family can tell that this is a brown rice pasta!” —Nichole, Virginia

Thrive Market Organic Rice & Amaranth Penne

  • Key Ingredients: white rice and amaranth
  • Nutrition Highlights: 5g of protein per serving
  • What Our Members Say: “This pasta tastes great with stir-fried veggies, herbs, and olive oil.” —Sherrie, New York

Chickapea Lentil Pasta Shells

  • Key Ingredients: red and yellow lentils, and chickpeas
  • Nutrition Highlights: 13g of protein and 6g of dietary fiber per serving
  • What Our Members Say: “I don’t have to skip pasta meals anymore! Love this option.” —Christine, Pennsylvania

Tolerant Organic Green Lentil Rotini

  • Key Ingredients: green lentils
  • Nutrition Highlights: 21g of protein and 9g of dietary fiber per serving
  • What Our Members Say: “This brand is my favorite. The texture of the cooked noodles is the best of every other I’ve tried, and it tastes great.” —Shannon, Pennsylvania

Thrive Market Brown Rice, Quinoa, and Cauliflower Rotini

  • Key Ingredients: brown rice, quinoa, and cauliflower
  • Nutrition Highlights: 5g of protein and 2g of dietary fiber per serving
  • What Our Members Say: “This is REALLY good. As a celiac, it’s tough to find good pasta substitutes. This is the best for sure.” —Janeen, California

Cybele’s Free to Eat Superfood White Rotini Pasta

  • Key Ingredients: green lentils, cauliflower, and parsnip
  • Nutrition Highlights: 14g of protein and 4g of dietary fiber per serving
  • What Our Members Say: “Love this pasta. It tastes just like regular pasta and is packed with veggies. My family can’t even tell.” —Yomanda, Florida

Banza Chickpeas Pasta, Penne

  • Key Ingredient: chickpeas
  • Nutrition Highlights: 13g of protein and 5g of dietary fiber per serving
  • What Our Members Say: “This is our favorite grain-free pasta—our daughter loves it. It’s great in soups and pasta salad.” —Heather, Colorado

Palmini Hearts of Palm Pasta, Linguini

  • Key Ingredients: sliced hearts of palm
  • Nutrition Highlights: 1g of protein, 4g of dietary fiber, and only 4g of carbs per serving
  • What Our Members Say: “Palmini is the best pasta substitute I have ever tried. It is delicious with Alfredo sauce, marinara, and pesto. I also rinse my noodles and cook them in the pan with my sauce.” —Caitlin, Florida

Family-Friendly Pasta Recipes

Use regular noodles or swap in gluten-free—it’s up to you. Either way, these family-friendly pasta recipes are weeknight winners.

One-Pot Chickpea Pasta

Comfort in a bowl. This one-pot recipe cuts down on clean up and uses chickpea noodles for a gluten-free twist featuring creamy mascarpone cheese, tender mushrooms, lots of Parmesan, and peas and spinach for added nutrition.

Pantry Pasta with White Beans, Olives, and Capers

Raid the pantry for this easy 20-minute recipe made with canned white beans, briny olives, and salty capers.

Zucchini and Lemon Pasta Salad

Embrace zucchini season with our summertime pasta salad recipe that adds extra protein from chickpeas and brightness from lemon juice. This recipe travels well and can serve everyone at your next picnic.

Spicy Pasta alla Vodka

Spice things up with a gluten-free pasta dish that’s primed for sharing. Every bite is extra rich (thanks to a dash of cream) and a little bit boozy (thanks to vodka).

Creamy Carbonara

The key to perfect carbonara is finishing the pasta in the skillet so it can combine with a luscious egg sauce. And don’t be shy with the cheese! Sprinkle each bowl liberally for maximum flavor.

Chlorella Avocado Pesto Noodles

This superfood-fueled dinner starts with a classic pesto recipe (featuring basil and garlic) then layers in a scoop of chlorella powder to boost nutrition, avocado for creaminess, and pistachios for nuttiness. Toss everything with your favorite noodles!

Drunken Pasta

When you’re ready to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, add that bottle of red to your pasta for a rich, adult-only sauce.

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Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, author, and tea enthusiast.

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